Skip to content

Resilience & Youth Development

Resilience Theory

At its foundation, a resilience-based approach to youth development is based upon the principle that all people have the ability to overcome adversity and to succeed in spite of their life circumstances. Resilience is a strengths-based construct, meaning its focus is on providing the developmental supports and opportunities (protective factors) that promote success, rather than on eliminating the factors that promote failure.

View a diagram (pdf) of the resiliency based youth development process.

A Resilience-Based Youth Development Process

Research has consistently shown that the presence of these developmental supports and opportunities (protective factors) provide a better indicator of whether youth will grow up to become successful, well-adjusted adults than does the presence or absence of risk factors (i.e. poverty, drug-use, etc.)

By providing youth with caring relationships, high expectations, and opportunities for meaningful participation, we meet the fundamental developmental needs that must be fulfilled if children and youth are to become happy and successful. As these needs are met, youth develop the strengths (developmental outcomes) that will benefit them throughout their lives.

Ultimately, research has found that providing the supports and opportunities that promote healthy development leads directly to positive outcomes in both academics and life.

These developmental supports and opportunities and individual strengths are measured by the CHKS Resilience & Youth Development Module (RYDM) where they are previously referred to as external and internal assets, respectively.

For a useful handout on the RYDM, download our resilience flyer (pdf).

Why Resilience Matters to Schools

Years of research exploring healthy development and successful learning from various social science disciplines has found a strong relationship between healthy behaviors and academic success (Jessor and Jessor, 1977; Austin, 1991). The implication for schools is that a narrow focus on only cognitive development ignores other critical areas of youth development. Youth development is defined as the process of promoting the social, emotional, physical, moral, cognitive, and spiritual development of young people through meeting their needs for safety, love, belonging, respect, identity, power, challenge, mastery, and meaning. Schools can promote healthy behaviors as well as successful learning in young people by creating climates and teaching practices that honor and meet these developmental needs.

Furthermore, these multi-discipline studies reveal a clear set of principles to guide education and prevention practice. Resilience research, the long-term study of positive youth development in the face of environmental threat, stress, and risk, consistently identify these principles as caring relationships, high expectation messages, and opportunities for participation and contribution. These supports and opportunities, referred to as protective factors, have been linked to the development of resilience—broadly defined as the ability to rebound from adversity and achieve healthy development and successful learning. They should be available in all environments in a young person’s world: home, school, community, and peer groups.


Guide to a Student-Family-School-Community Partnership: Using a Student & Data Driven Process to Improve School Environments & Promote Student Success created by Bonnie Benard and Carol Burgoa; written by Carol Burgoa and Jo Ann Izu with Jamie Hillenberg

WestEd and the Lucile Packard Foundation for Children’s Health have partnered together to create this guide intended to help parents, educators, and community members better understand the critical role of resilience in improving student success and school climate. It presents a data–driven, research–based process—referred to as the school–community forum process—for increasing youth voice, promoting resilience, strengthening adult–youth connections, and ultimately, for improving schools. Using a student listening circle, student participants respond to questions determined from data on resilience and non–academic barriers to learning. A separate listening circle is conducted with each of the primary stakeholder groups in the school–community (family, school staff, and community members). This forum process helps these groups hear and better meet the needs of students to promote the healthy development of youth, and their success in school and life. It is also a powerful process for actually demonstrating a resilience practice that brings forth the wisdom of youth, and the support of adults in improving school environments and student success.

Listening to Students: Moving from Resilience Research to Youth Development Practice and School Connectedness by Bonnie Benard and Sean Slade in Gilman, R., Huebner, E.S., & Furlong, M.J. (Eds.) Handbook of Positive Psychology in Schools

Bonnie Benard and Sean Slade co-author a key chapter, entitled "Listening to Students: Moving from Resilience Research to Youth Development Practice and School Connectedness," in this groundbreaking Handbook of Positive Psychology in Schools. Definitive in its scope, this volume describes ways that positive emotions, traits, and institutions promote school achievement and healthy social/emotional development, reveals how specific positive-psychological constructs relate to students and schools and support the delivery of school-based services, and illustrates the application of positive psychology to educational policymaking. By doing so, the book provides a long-needed centerpiece around which the field can continue to grow in an organized and interdisciplinary manner.

Resiliency: What We Have Learned by Bonnie Benard

"Bonnie Benard’s masterful synthesis of research on resilience is a landmark document, a new framework that will revolutionize the way America thinks about working with and relating to children and youth. Resiliency: What We Have Learned presents a desperately needed positive perspective on youth development and learning. Finally, schools, families, and youth-serving organizations have a proven way to develop competent, confident, and caring young citizens — well prepared to contribute and do well in today’s challenging world."
– Jeanne Gibbs, Developer, Tribes Learning Communities

"Bonnie Benard has done it again. Educators who dream of bringing out the best in all children can take heart. Benard illuminates burgeoning evidence that every individual is hard-wired for self-righting. The professional challenge of the next decade will be to dare to see this innate capacity as the human birthright of every child. It’s a reading must."

– Kathy Marshall, Executive Director, National Resilience Resource Center, University of Minnesota

Resilience and Youth Development Module (RYDM)

A unique feature of the CHKS is its strengths-based approach, most notable in the Resilience and Youth Development Module (RYDM). Included in the survey are scales assessing the fundamental developmental supports and opportunities (protective factors) identified by resilience research. These three protective factors – caring adult relationships, supportive high expectations, and opportunities for meaningful participation and decision-making – are associated with positive academic, psychosocial, and health outcomes among youth, even in high-risk environments. In this section, we provide easy access to descriptions of these questions and to publications, presentations, and workshops discussing them.

RYDM Questions in the CHKS

RYDM Required and Non-Required Questions 2007-08 (pdf). This is a list of all Resilience and Youth Development questions currently being used in the CHKS. They are listed as they appear in the CHKS. Questions on the developmental supports and opportunities in the School and Community (protective factors) are in the required Core (Module A). The full RYDM asks about the same protective factors in the Home and Peer environments and also about Personal Resilience Strengths.

What Does the RYDM Measure?

The California Healthy Kids Survey Resilience & Youth Development Module Theoretical Framework (gif)

The RYDM Theoretical FrameworkThe RYDM contains 56 questions that measure 11 External Assets (Developmental Supports & Opportunities) and 6 Internal Assets (Personal Strengths) that research has consistently and strongly linked to academic and life success. The elementary survey contains a subset of these resilience items.

Protective Factors…previously referred to as "External Assets". The RYDM asks students their perceptions of Caring Relationships, High Expectations, and Opportunities for Meaningful Participation in the three environments of school, home, community, and about Caring Relationships, and High Expectations with their peers. When young people experience environments rich in these Protective Factors, they are more likely to excel academically, less likely to engage in risky behaviors, and better adapted to deal with the adversity they encounter.

Personal Resilience Strengths…previously known as "Internal Assets". The RYDM measures 6 Internal Assets: Cooperation and Communication, Empathy, Problem Solving, Self-efficacy, Self-awareness, and Goals and Aspirations. These personal resilience strengths are fostered by environments rich in protective factors. For example youth who feel the adults in their lives care for them, and expect them to succeed, are more likely to care for others, and set high goals for themselves. These are the personal strengths that contribute to a youth’s academic and life success and enable them to foster these resilient qualities in others.

RYDM Content Description

RYDM Survey Content (pdf). Compilation of the discussion of the significance of the surveys RYD questions taken from the CHKS Survey Content Guidebook.

RYDM Reports and Presentations

Resilience, School Connectedness and Achievement. Informational program video and PowerPoint presentations by Bonnie Benard and Greg Austin of WestEd on the relationship between academic success and youth development.

Youth Development Strategies, Concepts, and Research (pdf). This supplement to the California Healthy Kids Survey (CHKS) RYDM report expands on the strategies, concepts, and research identified in the report, and provides specific resources and references for each. It is designed to assist practitioners in broadening their knowledge-base on resilience/youth development research and strategies. It provides a quick resource to the many approaches to providing youth with supports and opportunities at school and in the community. It serves as a guide for determining what course of action should be taken to meet the needs identified through the CHKS.

Resilience & Youth Development PowerPoint (pdf). Learn more about the CHKS Resilience and Youth Development Module (RYDM) with this PowerPoint presentation. Forty-three slides will take you through the theoretical framework behind the RYDM, the meaning of the RYDM scores, and the relationships between risk, resilience, and achievement.

© 2018 WestEd. All rights reserved.

730 Harrison Street, San Francisco, CA 94107 | Toll free 888.841.7536 | Fax 415.565.3012